Independence is a good thing. Taking care of yourself is what adults do. Adversity is a challenge best overcome with your innate strength and talents. Generally that has worked for me throughout my life. Or so it seemed to me. When I was recently diagnosed with a serious illness, my attitude was “ok, I can do this.” I researched, prayed, planned and plunged forward with surgery, radiation and drug therapy. I did what the science said, missed as little work as possible and decided that this was another battle that I would win using the skills and strengths I have.
The doctors told me this was difficult and that I should consider a support group. Not me! This was my battle and I would fight, with my family by my side, and win. I was in for a surprise – an awakening no doubt but not a rude one!
The physical part of my fight was relatively easy. There were symptoms and side effects, but basically not too difficult. But I was unprepared for the emotional journey. I tried to keep this bottled up. After all, this was my problem and I would solve it.
I began to get calls and notes from people who had experienced a similar challenge in their lives. I thought that was so kind and considerate. Then I began to realize that each time, I felt a little better. My colleagues at TCU were phenomenal. Their genuine care buoyed me when I really needed propping up. It really hit me when I went to radiation. There I met many people in the same situation as me. People who I would not normally meet. Engineers, truck drivers, school teachers, politicians, ranchers. And we talked. About our families, our careers, our hopes, our fears. We laughed. We cared about each other in very significant ways. I began to realize that I looked forward to radiation every day. Not for the treatment. But for the company of these strangers who had entered my life – and had made it richer and better.
This experience reconfirmed to me what I believe and now know with absolute certainty. God gives us what we need, when we need it. The key is to know what we need. As I reflect on the many years at TCU, I remember again and again that when I needed it, it seemed the right person entered my life, whether student, colleague, mentor or parent. I rediscovered that the delivery vehicle of God’s grace and God’s goodness and God’s compassion is packaged in thousands of different ways. And in packages I might not have picked if it were up to me. I know the corollary to this belief as well. I must be prepared to be the vehicle of God’s grace for someone else who needs it – even if they don’t know it. That, I believe, is how God works in this complex, noisy and fragile world.
Author: Dr. Don Mills, Distinguished Professor of Educational Leadership, Spring 2015
Don Mills has spent the last 46 years at TCU. After 42 years in administration (the last 18 as Vice Chancellor), he left administering for professing in 2011. He is now Distinguished Professor of Higher Education Leadership where he initiated the doctoral program. He is especially interested in the concepts of community, higher education renewal, and engagement. Don has a wonderful wife, two terrific children and three beautiful, talented grandchildren.